Tales against the dark

Last night we took our dog for a walk at the off-leash park. It was after sunset already and a fine, icy sleet had begun to fall. The park is on the flats alongside the river. There are no streetlamps, and the only light was the dim phosphorescence of the snow itself. There were a couple of other vehicles in the parking lot, but no sign of anyone else or their dogs.

We walked along with our flashlights into that dim, ghostly expanse, and Boo, our dog, bounded on ahead and came loping back. There were no other dogs for her to play with and so she didn’t dash off as far from us as she usually would out here. Or maybe it was the dark itself that kept her close. Distant trees were vague dark shapes that for a moment looked like they might be people. We heard an owl hooting, a sound that was somehow soft, almost secretive, and yet carried far across the wide river flats.

We walked for a while without saying much, with the sleet stinging our eyes, and then my son said, “Let’s tell stories.”

So we did. We told a few creepy stories, and some funny ones, and afterwards I thought about how certain places and times seem to call for a story. Here we were in this eerie twilight world, almost as if we had wandered into some spooky tale ourselves, and the impulse came not just to talk to one another, but to tell each other stories, too. I thought about our distant ancestors, thousands of years ago, before there were any streetlamps, or streets, or cities at all, gathered around their campfires with the mysterious, frightening dark on all sides, where beasts prowled. I felt I understood a little better where the storytelling impulse comes from, and I thought it must still be carried in us, in our genes, the desire to tell tales when darkness falls.

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